Reflections on Trans Day of Visibility

Good day, dear readers.

If you haven’t read my last blog post, #MoreThanVisibility, go read that first, so this will make sense. Thanks!

I could not have anticipated the reaction to my TDOV photo collage campaign or this blog post. I was blown away by all of you, and I am so grateful for your support.

I had strangers messaging me on Facebook and Instagram to talk about how at home they felt within the collages or the blog post. I had one trans guy tell me that he had always felt excluded from trans representation because he doesn’t fit the cis-normative, hypermasculine archetype that we see in media (sadly, trans-centered media is equally as guilty of this trend as mainstream media). I had cisgender friends on Facebook sharing my post with their other friends, and trans friends who were tagging friends and sharing in groups.

I sincerely hope that the subjects of my last post somehow heard about it and read it. My comments and thoughts don’t exist in a vacuum and I want them to know how many people feel the same way I do about their impact on the community.

And then something magical happened. The Queen herself, Laverne Cox regrammed three of my TDOV collages.  Before I knew it, my phone blew up. People responded. The three collages together earned 46,800 likes. 46,800. You can see the rest of my collages that did not get regrammed here. 

The best thing about TDOV was seeing my friends, the ones in the collages, the ones that represent the true diversity within our community out there on Laverne Cox’s platform. To read the excited comments of friends who saw their friends on her Instagram feed. To see a whole lot of people smiling around them, to see them feeling validated. Validated by a mainstream media star for being their unique, beautiful selves. I cried a little.

But the reaction from the community has not only been positive. Jake Graf continues to delete comments on his photo calling out the lack of diversity. I’m posting a photo here of some of the comments that followed mine, in case they also get deleted. You read it here first– we are being silenced.

My friends Jordan and Devin-Norelle also wrote really great pieces that have gotten attention.

However, there are some people who feel like voicing opposition to others within the community on the issue of inclusion and diversity is trans-on-trans shaming. There are people who think that we should celebrate the successes of those cisnormative model types and just also find some way to raise ourselves up. They think that having the conversation about privilege and representation takes away from our community being a “safe space.”

I’ll start with the last point first– I am not sure that those who have been excluded from representation (TPOC, fem trans men, masculine trans women, non cisnormative, disabled, socioeconomically disadvantaged, and the list goes on…) ever felt like the community was a “safe space” for them.  So, if calling out privilege and power makes those within the privileged group uncomfortable, I think its worth it if we heal some of the hurt for the rest of the community overall. I offer my privilege up for this cause, and I don’t get why it’s so hard for other people to do the same.

Second, I think playing the “why can’t we all just get along” card is dangerous. No, those who are not in the position of privilege should not stop speaking for the “greater good” or “unity” of the movement. We fell for that argument when it came to gay/lesbian rights. From the very beginning of the movement toward marriage equality, which lasted decades, there were those who said that we should focus on securing basic human rights, like employment security, housing, and decriminalization first. But, the privileged within the community (read: moneyed white cisgender men) focused on marriage, and marriage was almost the only thing we worked on for 20 years. And you know what? You can now get married in all 50 states, but you can still get evicted or fired for being gay in over 20 states.

So no, I don’t buy the “wait until we are more accepted and then we can branch out and show our true spectrum” narrative at all. Once we set a precedent, it’s very hard to change. Hell, our culture generally has accepted the idea that the types of folks that are on magazine covers are an irrational and very unrealistic image of beauty, but they still cater to that norm. Why in the hell would transgender people want to play into the same problems? We are starting from scratch– let’s create a narrative that is real and good from the very beginning, shall we?

Trans Day of Visibility should not be about each individual trans person posting a selfie and saying “I’m trans.” Trans Day of Visibility should be a celebration of the trans community– to bring to social media those who don’t usually get the spotlight. To show the cisgender world how unique we all are– we can’t be classified, stereotyped, or put into a box. Trans isn’t just something that you should be able to identify based on some cookie-cutter idea of what trans looks like. The people who appear in the mainstream media don’t need as much of the protection that visibility and awareness brings, but for the rest of us, it could actually help save our lives.

Be excellent to yourselves, and each other.

 

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#MoreThanVisibility

Dear Readers,

Hi! It’s been a while, I know. Work has been busier, I took a few small vacations– life has been pretty good. I hope you’ve all been well.

Today, March 31st, is Transgender Day of Visibility, also known as TDOV. TDOV was founded in 2009, and has grown exponentially in recent years due to the rise in trans presence on social media. Each year has a theme, and this year’s theme was “#MoreThanVisibility.”  That’s going to be our theme for today’s blog post.

TDOV began for me as a day of celebration. I decided I would do my part not by posting photos of myself being trans (which is me, you know, all the time), but by collecting photos of my trans friends and highlighting the diversity of the trans community. I figured, if the day was really supposed to be about visibility, I could do my part by enhancing the visibility of those who tend to not get much press coverage. You can see them for yourself on my Instagram @thatguykas.

You see, there are some trans people who are actually quite visible. You know, white people, people of means, people who have the privilege of access to medical services for transitioning, people who pass, people who are hetero-identified and cis-normative. People like these folks:

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These folks are an assortment of internet activists– people who make films about trans folks, or who have seemingly made a name by being good at picking up heavy things or posing in their undies. Folks who, as far as I can tell, take the idea that being yourself counts as activism when you’re part of a marginalized community, and have run with it. These are the folks you see on the magazine covers that talk about trans people. People who get famous making their own videos about their lives as trans people.

The photo above, labeled TRANS VISIBILITY made me laugh at first. Seriously? That is trans visibility? Y’all are the same 6 people I see on all the trans things. Then it made me mad. This photo, these 6 people, are the minority in the trans community. And yet, they seem to be the trans folks popping up in mainstream media (other similar examples not pictured– Aydian Dowling, Benjamin Melzer). How is it possible that folks that are actually the minority within the trans community became the mainstream standard-bearers of trans image?

Because they’re beautiful. They’re mostly white. They’re fortunate enough to have lived in a place where there is access to healthcare. They conform to stereotypical physical gender norms. They’ve had medical intervention. They’re in shape. They have enough money to afford self-care.

Now, to be clear, I possess most of these characteristics, too. I’m white, I pass, and I have had access to surgical and hormonal intervention. I have a graduate school education and I live in a major metropolitan city. I am definitely occupying one of the highest rungs on the trans privilege ladder. And I understand that and I accept it and I’m committed to doing something to help change that for other trans people. That’s why I put together collages of my friends. And that’s why I decided to take Jake Graf on and to call him out for the lack of diversity in his representations of trans folks.

I wrote: “Where’s the diversity?” Jake replied: “A  Jew, a Jamaican, a Kiwi, two Welsh girls and a Dominican. Seems pretty diverse to me. :)”

I, realizing that Jake lives in the UK, replied: “In America, this looks like beige, white white white beige white. All passing. All cis-normative. Y’all can do better!” I tagged my friend Jordan, @luckypandacub, who is trans, Asian, and an acivist.

Jake replied: “I think we’re doing a great job, and by all means, if you think YOU can do better, be my guest! :)”

Jordan wrote: “Agreed. Those facing the brunt of the discrimination in our community aren’t the people that look like this.”

And less than a few minutes later, our comments were erased and Jordan and I were both blocked. The king tolerates no dissent, even when it is respectful and meant to help make our collective community better. Go see for yourself– there are no negative comments on this post even though I spoke up and others did as well.

Jordan is right, and it begs the question– who are these folks representing? If you ask them, they say they’re fighting for trans awareness. They’re activists. But the truth is that they routinely exclude from their publicity the very folks who need activism. The trans people that are most often victims. The trans folks that are beaten, murdered. Those who are people of color. Socioeconomically disadvantaged. Living in rural areas. Those wihtout access or privilege. Those who don’t have six-pack abs and fine cheekbones. Those are the people who need visibility in some form other than a picture on a memorial list of trans people who we have lost. They deserve representation because they are the majority. They are the norm. Below are the photos of just some of the trans people killed since 2015. Where is their representation? Where is their visibility?

Our community cannot afford to continue to only lift up the beautiful, the passing, and the able. We need to paint a realistic portrait of the trans experience. We need to remind the world and ourselves that these folks aren’t meant to be some sort of standard by which all trans folx are measured. We are each beautiful and we are enough.

This post is for all the trans folx who don’t show up on magazine covers, and a call to action. #MoreThanVisibility

We need leaders who lead. We need role models who are more than pretty. We need representatives that are going to use their power to discuss the things that impact the rest of us. We need people who tolerate dialogue and want to improve the lives of all trans folks. We need to see ourselves in them. We can do better. #MoreThanVisibility